Researching Personal and Family Lives
More than thirty articles in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology relate to research on personal and family lives and relationships, constituting a valuable resource which both new and experienced researchers in this field can use when reflecting on their research practice. Here I refer to a subset of articles which are among those providing an insight into the ways in which research findings are shaped by combinations of voices or perspectives. These combinations not only include the multiple perspectives of related individuals (e.g. Mauthner, 2000; Ribbens McCarthy et al., 2003; Warin et al., 2007; Harden et al., 2010), but also the contributors to focus groups (Smithson, 2000), and, of course, the researcher or researchers coproducing data with the voices of research participants (e.g. Mauthner, 2000; Warin et al., 2007). Beyond this, intended audiences and funders can also shape how voices are presented (Harden et al., 2010). A risk sometimes highlighted is that the ways in which data are generated or analysed will lead to the undue dominance of particular voices (Smithson, 2000, Harden et al., 2010).
Researcher reflexivity is consistently seen as a vital way of assessing the impact of researchers’ personal characteristics and perspectives on findings (e.g. Smithson, 2000; Elliott et al., 2012), although it also needs to incorporate reflection on research agendas, methodological and analytical approaches (Ribbens McCarthy et al., 2003; Gadd, 2004) and theoretical perspectives (Warin et al., 2007; Duncan, 2012). However, reflexivity does not in itself guarantee that the researcher will find it easy to perceive the impact of their biographically-specific perspective (Duncan, 2012), or feel able to make it explicit (Mauthner, 2000; Gadd, 2004; Gillies and Edwards, 2012; Elliott et al., 2012). In fact, the impact may be more visible to, or with the assistance of, third parties (Gillies and Edwards, 2012; Duncan, 2012). Weaving together different narratives into a coherent account reflects the researcher’s voice in a way that should arguably be acknowledged explicitly (Mauthner, 2000; Warin et al., 2007), and is also influenced by the researcher’s conceptual framework (Perlesz and Lindsay, 2003), epistemological standpoint (Ribbens McCarthy et al., 2003), and/or ethical issues (Mauthner, 2000).
Interview data are shaped by both the interpersonal dynamics between interviewer and interviewee(s) and also the form of the interview: e.g. focus groups, joint interviews, individual interviews (Smithson, 2000; Mauthner, 2000; Harden et al., 2010). They can also reflect the impact on individual or collective accounts of ‘public discourses’ (Smithson, 2000) or of ‘family stories’ (Warin et al., 2007; Harden et al., 2010), and also the impact of how interviewees and interviewers ‘position’ each other (Warin et al., 2007). A lack of connection with a respondent can lead to the researcher not perceiving the respondent’s account as ‘authentic’ (Gadd, 2004), or caricaturing them (Elliott et al., 2012), or constructing them as ‘other’ in a problematic way (Smithson, 2000).
In addition to the articles cited above, other articles in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology demonstrate how the data generated by voices in family and relationship research are shaped by time and place and by the data generation methods adopted. In general, articles linked to this field in the journal, both within and beyond the selection identified here, draw upon a wide and diverse range of studies, providing food for thought about reflexivity, interview dynamics, and handling complementary or contradictory data (e.g. Mauthner, 2000; Perlesz and Lindsay, 2003; Ribbens McCarthy et al., 2003). Even in the case of a lone researcher carrying out interviews with individual respondents, reading a range of these articles should sensitise them to the range of interacting influences that construct qualitative research findings.
Department of Sociology
University of Warwick